War Commemoration in Post-Soviet Russia: ceremonies, symbols and practices
School of Politics and International Relations University of Nottingham Nottingham, UK
The processes of re-making war narratives in post-communist countries are a popular agenda of research in contemporary social sciences (Wolentarska-Ochman 2006, Onken 2007, Rondewald 2008, etc). Scholars examine how these societies revise memory of the Second World War; how they apply the new narrative in order to achieve reconciliation and enhance the newly found national/collective identity. It might be suggested that the experience of post-Soviet Russia occurred to be less examined. Between possible reasons for academic reluctance may be an assumed continuity of the Russian collective identity or its almost uncontested authoritarian character. This project questions these assumptions. It suggests that the understanding of war/military conflicts has been changing over the last twenty years in Russia. This change affects the memory of the Second World War and memory of post-Soviet military conflicts.
This paper seeks to investigate the political and social meanings of war commemoration which is expressed in ceremonies, monuments, and popular practices of "using" memorial sites. This approach is grounded in research methodology that considers war memory as a dynamic process of social interaction between state, survivors and public (Ashplant, Dawson, Roper 2000, Misztal 2003).
The paper is structured around memorial sites. This approach contrasts with traditional method to concentrate on analysis of the WWII memory as a dominant war narrative in Russia (Forest, Johnson 2002, Onken 2007, Khazanov 2008). The empirical sources for this paper are two memorial sites. One site is in the capital of Russia, Moscow (Poklonnaia Gora). Another is in Perm, provincial industrial town, situated in Ural. These memorial places demonstrate how various war narratives interrelate and compete with each other in one geographical place. Both cases have the memorial parks in the central part of the cities with monuments dedicated to different war/military conflicts. The paper also illuminates popular practices of "using" and "consuming" memorial space. It discusses diversity of social functions of these places in post-Soviet society ranged from official war commemoration ceremonies to leisure activity and weddings photos. The empirical sources are ethnographic observations, media analysis, analysis of visuals images and interviews with visitors.